Zweli Mkhize: Ex-South African minister implicated in Digital Vibes scandal

Related Topics

  • Coronavirus pandemic

image source, Getty Imagesimage caption, Dr Zweli Mkhize stepped down from his role in August

A former South African health minister has been implicated in a corruption scandal involving the awarding of a Covid-19 communication contract.

A probe by the country's Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found Dr Zweli Mkhize guilty of "a distinct lack of oversight" over the contract worth around $10m (£7.4m).

Money from the deal was used to buy Dr Mkhize's son a car, and he was also given around $20,000.

Dr Mkhize has denied any wrongdoing.

The National Department of Health paid the company Digital Vibes for Covid-19 communications work – but the contract was authorised outside normal government regulations, according to the SIU report.

The report found that the real directors of Digital Vibes were two close associates of Dr Mkhize, even though it was officially run by a woman who in reality worked in a fuel station. She has denied being used as a front for the company.

It emerged a few months ago that some money from that contract was also used to pay for repairs at Dr Mkhize's private property.

When questioned by SIU investigators he said he only became aware of the payment through media reports – claiming that an employee on his property had arranged for the repairs and subsequent payment by an associate.

The SIU report cast doubt on that explanation.

The former health minister resigned in August amid the scandal – but denied any wrongdoing – or prior knowledge that he and his family had somehow benefitted from the contract.

While the report has found there is enough evidence for criminal action against some senior officials in the health department – on Dr Mkhize it found there were only grounds for "executive action" by the President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Dr Mkhize has gone from a hero praised by many for his handling of South Africa's Covid-19 response to a man tainted by corruption allegations.

It was under his watch that what has now been found to have been an irregular and unnecessary contract was awarded, costing South African taxpayers millions.

For Dr Mkhize's critics it is difficult to believe that someone who has served in the governing party for decades in various senior positions and knows its regulations would have missed this controversial spending.

Not least because another government department had already been tasked by the cabinet to handle communications work around the Covid-19 pandemic – a decision he was aware of.

It has raised questions about Dr Mkhize's motives when approving the payments.

The Digital Vibes scandal is one of a number of investigations related to the misuse of funds under the guise of Covid-relief, something that has enraged many South Africans.

The former health minister may have resigned from his post but remains a member of parliament.

President Ramaphosa has staked his reputation on fighting corruption and South Africans are now waiting to see what action, if any, will be taken in the wake of this damning report.

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